A pleasing feature of Dutch Football is the extraordinary names that professional clubs choose for themselves. Many forsake a simple combination of city plus uninspiring suffix for names that are far more creative. Ajax, Excelsior, Go Ahead Eagles, Heracles and Sparta are excellent examples of clubs whose titles bare no resemblance to the city they call home. But one Dutch Football club trumps the lot.
Founded in 1963 by the merger of clubs Stormvogels and VSV, SC Telstar is based in the port town of IJmuiden on the river IJ in North Holland. Football clubs established by mergers of others often choose to pay their respects to the deceased outfits by mashing their two (or more) names together in a Frankenstein manner. However, the founders of SC Telstar did not plum for “SVSV IJmuiden” or the like. Instead, they looked to the skies for inspiration before putting pen to paper.
Astronomy and Football are two topics that rarely overlap. Earlier this year FBTG brought you the story of AS Venús, a leading semi-professional club from the island of Tahiti named after the point at which 18th century European explorers in the Pacific selected to observe the planet Venus’ transit in front of the Sun. We didn’t think that we would get another chance to explore a professional Football club with cosmic connections. Yet, in a post dedicated to Eerste Divisie side SC Telstar, that is exactly what we are doing.
The club was founded on the 17th of July 1963, and on May the 7th earlier that year, AT&T launched the Telstar 2 satellite into orbit. A joint operation between several national space-exploration agencies including NASA, Telstar 2’s raison d’etre was to assist in the development of communication networks either side of the Atlantic. To achieve this, technical installations capable of communicating with the satellite were built in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA, though not in the Netherlands, which poses the question as to why a Dutch Football club named itself in its honour.
Telstar 2 is only 0.876 metres in length but weighs an astonishing 79 kilos, only slightly more than I do, honest. And just like me, Telstar 2’s outdated technological capabilities have been surpassed in the 21st century to the extent where the satellite no longer plays an active role in transnational satellite communications. It simply continues its lonely orbit around the Earth, having satisfactorily served its purpose to large organisations whose attention now lies elsewhere. In this regard, one could argue that the people of IJmuiden were right to name their Football club in honour of a once important-but-now-defunct satellite.
Though I haven’t read it, I am certain that Lonely Planet’s entry for the town of IJmuiden is tiny, if it even exists at all. A minor industrial port on the river IJ that connects Amsterdam to the North Sea that suffered heavily during the Second World War, drab and rainy IJmuiden offers very little for tourists. The satellite town on the peripheries of many larger and far better known Dutch cities, such as Den Haag, Haarlem, Utrecht, Alkmaar and, of course, Amsterdam, struggles to compete for attention against its neighbours.
SC Telstar suffers as a direct result of IJmuiden’s proximity to larger Dutch cities that boast more successful clubs. Football enthusiasts living further South of IJmuiden gravitate toward Ajax, while those residing on the northern bank of the river IJ tend to opt for multiple Eredivise-winners AZ Alkmaar. A catchment area of potential fans that could choose to come watch SC Telstar play is filled with other clubs that can more easily tempt punters with only a passing interest in Football. Lower attendances means lower income from ticket sales which means a lower calibre of Football on display.
However, much like its namesake roaming invisibly several hundred miles above our heads, SC Telstar has seen times of greater importance. Immediately after the merger, young SC Telstar won its inaugural season in the Tweede Divisie in 1963 before being promoted again a year later from the Eerste Divisie to the Eredivisie. The club was an Eredivise stalwart for 14 consecutive seasons between 1964 and 1978, famously beating Ajax away from home 2-0 on Halloween of 1964, doing the league double of PSV Eindhoven in the 1967-1968 season and emerging victorious from a 3-2 battle against Feyenoord in 1973. What’s more, SC Telstar has fielded some extraordinary talented players over the course of 55 years, including Jimmy Floyd Hasselbank and a certain Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal, more commonly known as Louis van Gaal.
Yet since 1978, SC Telstar has competed in every single Eerste Divisie season without exception, never finishing higher than 4th in that time. At time of writing in late 2018, there looks like little chance of that pattern being broken this season; after scoring within 5 minutes, SC Telstar lost the match I attended 3-1 to visitors FC Twente from Enschede.
The club’s meteoric rise and subsequent stagnation is remarkably similar to the way in which the telecommunications satellite after which it was named existed as a critical tool for Western Communications during the Cold War prior to technological innovation rendering it not only obsolete, but also uninteresting. A periodic flyby of any satellite shows up on radars of scientists and astronomers studying the skies, and fans of Eerste Divisie sides will consider an annual away day at the Radobank IJmond Stadion when the new season’s fixtures are released.
As cool and as cult as the club undeniably is, SC Telstar is unlikely to achieve any major success in the near future. Alongside other big names competing in the Eerste Divisie, IJmuiden and its surrounding towns are simply not able to produce a dominating side. Much like its namesake, SC Telstar will remain little more than an object of curiosity for the industry expert and occasional keen groundhopper. Both Telstars that enjoyed widespread recognition in 1963 are unlikely to get that same attention ever again.